When the Chocolate Skateboards team rolls into town this weekend on its twentieth anniversary tour, local artist Evan Hecox will be front and center at the celebration. His artwork for the iconic brand will anchor a one-night-only art show at Super Ordinary that features his skateboard graphics, along with photographs of the legend-stacked Chocolate team in action.
Westword caught up with Hecox to talk about his work with Chocolate, Saturday's show and his solo exhibit at Super Ordinary in October.
Westword: Your relationship with Chocolate has obviously been long and fruitful. How did it first come about?
Evan Hecox: I was working for a snowboard clothing company in San Francisco and my work was appearing in snowboard magazines in ads and things, and all the skate industry people started seeing it. The guys behind Chocolate contacted me about doing skateboard graphics, and I was actually more of a skateboarder, anyway, so I was excited by the opportunity to do some board graphics. I was a fan of the Girl and Chocolate brands already, and they already had a lot of good design and art direction from the beginning, so it was an easy thing to say yes to.
Looking back over what you've been able to accomplish with Chocolate, there's a lot of cohesion. Was there a conscious attempt from the beginning to create a body of work as opposed to just stand-alone skateboard deck graphics?
It works a little differently every time and there's no one exact formula. Everyone at Chocolate is very creative and visually minded in one way or another, and the team skaters are all very creative, interesting guys with ideas of their own about what they want for graphics. Some of the ideas come just from me -- I'll have an idea I'll pitch to them, or vice versa -- and it's a give and take. It's tricky because obviously the boards, each one has to look good and stand on its own as a consumable commercial product, but it's also important to me, and to Chocolate, to have it also stand as good art and design. I think the cohesion just comes from having one artist do a whole lot of work for the brand over a whole bunch of years and being given the free rein to do it.
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I'm really drawn to some of the series you've done, where an image is spread out across multiple skateboard decks for each of the team riders. So if you just have one of the decks, you're only seeing a piece of the bigger work.
That wasn't something that was happening in skateboard graphics so much when I first tried it, but it gave me a bigger canvas to work with. I would work on the piece as a whole first, making one large picture but keeping in mind where the individual boards would be coming in once it was divided up. I had a lot of fun with some of those.
I can't think of very many skateboard brands that are so firmly associated with one artist. Who have been some of your role models as you've taken on and sustained this relationship with Chocolate?
I was in high school in the '80s and always had an appreciation for Jim Phillips, who did all the graphics for Santa Cruz, and VC Johnson, who did all the early Powell graphics. Not so much as a direct influence but just, those were the guys whose art was defining those brands, and that stuck out to me. Later on I was even more influenced by people like Neil Blender, Mark Gonzales and Tommy Guerrero, skaters who were artists in their own right and had kind of a raw sensibility that I was drawn in by. And then a lot of influences from outside of skateboarding, too, just a whole list of different things that plugged into my style and my way of doing things and the look that's become synonymous with Chocolate now.
Do you have an official role as art director at Chocolate, working from Denver, or has this all been freelance work?
Andy Jenkins is the main art director for both Girl and Chocolate, so he's in charge of everything visual they do. Sometimes I've been called the art director of Chocolate, but I've never actually worked in-house. My look and my aesthetic has kind of defined the brand, though, so I guess I'm sort of a de facto art director. Keep reading for more from Evan Hecox.
What can you tell us about the show at Super Ordinary?
Girl and Chocolate are sibling brands and Girl got started a little before Chocolate, so they already did their twentieth anniversary tour. For ours, we wanted to make something that was sort of a traveling art show with photos, memorabilia and, of course, board graphics and original art.
Pedro Barrios, one of the curators at Super Ordinary, has noted some interesting differences between the work in this show and some of the things you're working on for your solo show there next month. I'm curious: what kinds of distinctions do you make between your skateboard graphics and commercial art, and your personal work as an artist?
I've always tried to create art that is visually dynamic but not overly-stylized. I've always wanted the work to be fairly straightforward: distinctive so you know where and who it came from, but that doesn't look too of a particular time, too dated. I think I have a pretty straightforward way of drawing and rendering things, to stand out by taking a fairly simplistic approach and by keeping it simple and straightforward, rather than the opposite of all that.
There will be some similarities in my more personal work, obviously, because I'm the same person, but always with Chocolate or any project I'm doing for a client there are parameters and expectations and it will be consumed by people and be for sale and has to work as a commercial object. So you might notice that the color choices and the subject matter are maybe a bit brighter and suited for the purpose. In my own work, I think you can expect to see work that is a bit more subtle. It will also be stuff that I'm doing now, currently in my life, whereas some of the stuff for this Chocolate show is looking back as much as seventeen, eighteen years. My frame of mind and my technique has changed quite a bit.
Can you elaborate on that, since you've been putting this overview selection together? How has your work changed -- or not -- over your twenty years working with Chocolate?
It's funny, because when I first started I really didn't know how to use a computer very well. I hadn't really learned how to work on a Mac or use much of the software anything. I had a very old-school set of graphic design skills, so I was using those skills to do the early Chocolate graphics, and then their artists at the company would have to adapt them digitally to reproduce them. As time went on I got a computer and became proficient with some of the graphics programs and I think that shows in some ways, but my approach has always been to do it by hand first, sketching out ideas on paper with renderings in black and white. I think I've always looked at the computer as a nice finishing tool rather than a starting point. I still don't necessarily look at it as the main tool that I use, even for commercial work. I always think of doing things by hand first.
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Chocolate: 20 Years opens at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 13 at Super Ordinary. If the show has you stoked and craving more, Chocolate team riders Kenny Anderson, Marc Johnson, Jerry Hsu, Chico Brenes, Raven Tershy, Justin Eldridge, and Girl Skateboards team rider Sean Malto will be skating a 4 p.m. demo on Sunday, September 14 at Rail Bender Skatepark in Parker to show off the other side of the brand's commitment to artistry.